Once you have engaged a diverse and representative set of partners who share a vision of your community’s early childhood system, you’re Set to begin the planning process.

Systems building is a collaborative effort.


Here is what you can expect to learn in this section:

Conduct a community scan to understand the existing landscape

Utilize data to inform your plan and vision for developing an equitable system

Develop a strategic plan that provides a roadmap for your community partnership’s shared agenda


Community scans (also known as needs assessments) are useful tools for building understanding among your community partnership. The purpose of a scan is to uncover root causes of persistent early childhood problems and successes. Demographic, economic and social data form the starting point for a community scan.

By identifying early childhood resources, key players and potential partnerships, you can broaden the view of the early childhood landscape. In addition to data requests, you and your partners can deepen your understanding of your community through community engagement techniques such as interviews, focus groups, community listening sessions and family story collections. Within your agreements, map out plans to disaggregate data so you can take a deep dive into outcomes for all families and children in your community.



Resource: See Virginia's recent comprehensive, statewide Needs Assessment, completed as a part of Virginia's Preschool Development Grant Birth-Five.

In addition to community scans, fiscal maps are a supplemental assessment tool to enhance understanding of a community’s assets and needs, identify financial and other resources present in a community, and shed light on gaps.


Resource: Visit the Fiscal Mapping Section on the Resources and Tools page to learn how to conduct a fiscal map of your community or region.


For some examples of recent fiscal maps in Virginia communities, see:

Analyzing your community scan and fiscal map with your partners and community stakeholders is a critical step in understanding data. By intentionally engaging families, community partners can gain insights into how community scan and fiscal map data play out in the community and what families care about most. As in all stages of collaborative work, it’s essential to engage a diverse range of voices in these conversations about data.

Utilizing data effectively requires an understanding of what, how and by whom data is collected, as well as the systems supporting data collection, security, hosting, governance and sharing. Developing data-sharing agreements and processes for data analysis, evaluation and security will support and protect your partnerships and help you move toward your vision. For an example of shared research agendas from various Virginia agencies, click here.

There are many ways to host and structure your conversations about data. Here are some resources to get started:

Discuss with your community partners:

What are child and family outcomes in your community across income levels, race and neighborhood?

What barriers frustrate families and partners?

Which services are working well for children, and which are not?


How have you disaggregated data by race and socioeconomic status to learn how children and families in your community fare and compare?

How are strategic planning, policy change and budgeting efforts prioritizing the closure of opportunity gaps along racial and socio-economic lines?

A shared agenda outlines common interests and goals across early childhood care and education collaboration partners.

Essential elements of a shared agenda include:

A shared understanding of the community’s needs and the targeted problem

Agreed-upon, targeted systems change efforts and designed outcomes

Common language and principles that guide the work

Commitment to shared work and accountability

Creating a shared research agenda aligned with your vision can help your community partnership utilize data, build capacity for strategic analysis and drive policy and programmatic improvements.

A strategic plan is community-led and collaboratively achieved. It serves as a long-term roadmap for your community partnership’s systems-building work. It is guided by a shared agenda and clear vision and mission statements, and grounded in data and information that tell your community’s early childhood story.

A strategic plan is ideally a living document that is easily updated to reflect progress and changes in your community. Including measurable goals, objectives and strategies that include timelines and responsibilities will allow your partnership to hold each other accountable.


For an example of a strategic plan, see: